This year’s Ryder Cup Captains, Luke Donald and Zach Johnson, will both be aware that a bad selection can potentially damage a team while a wise choice could be the secret to success in the biennial showpiece.
Captain’s picks were first introduced in 1979 by the Europeans before the US adopted the idea a decade later. Over the years the process has been tweaked and fiercely debated but they have remained a vital part of the biennial contest and have given the Captains a selection headache on numerous occasions. Here, we take a look at some of the best and worst Captain’s picks in Ryder Cup history.
Captain: Jose Maria Olazabal (2012)
Pick: Ian Poulter
With the Saturday sun about to set at Medinah Golf Club, Europe found themselves five points adrift and out of contention of retaining the trophy before the momentum shifted dramatically when Ian ‘Postman’ Poulter led a charge to secure the final point of the day to reduce the deficit to four. The Captain’s pick had already banked two points for his team in his two previous matches but his rally in Saturday’s fourball, where he birdied each of the last five holes to secure a 1-up triumph alongside Rory McIlroy, will go down in history as the catalyst for the Miracle in Medinah. The Englishman finished the weekend off with four points from a possible four with a 2 up triumph over Webb Simpson in the Sunday singles on the way to the historic victory.
Captain: Ian Woosnam
Picks: Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood
Ryder Cup stalwarts Clarke and Westwood rewarded Woosnam’s faith by roaring through their matches undefeated at the K Club in Ireland as Europe rolled to an 18.5 – 9.5 rout. The duo were sent out together on Friday and Saturday in the morning fourballs and they delivered a pair of victories, taking down world No. 1 Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk on Friday and World No. 2 Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco on Saturday. Westwood added another point before the Sunday singles with a pair of halves alongside Colin Montgomerie in the foursomes while Clarke was rested. The Northern Irishman returned for the final day to complete three victories from a possible three with a triumph over Zach Johnson while Westwood added his fourth point of the week with a 2 up win over DiMarco. It remains the best performance by two wildcards on either side.
Captain: Tom Watson
Pick: Raymond Floyd
At the age of 51, Floyd was, and remains, the oldest team member in history, and had previously captained the ‘89 squad. Tom Watson, captain of team and seven years younger than his pick, said he was looking for ‘heart and guts’ when he picked Floyd for the team from the ranks of the Senior PGA Tour. Floyd showed plenty of that as he justified his selection by picking up three points from a possible four including a 2 up triumph over Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal despite being 23 years his senior. Floyd’s win sealed victory for the States and left the World Golf Hall of Famer as the joint highest points scorer for the US team at The Belfry. It remains the last time the US won on European soil.
Captain: Jim Furyk (2018)
Pick: Tiger Woods
The American came into the 42nd edition of the tournament full of confidence after picking up his 80th PGA Tour title just a week before at the season-ending Tour Championship. But he didn’t hit the ground running at Le Golf National as he slumped to four defeats across the weekend for the worst Ryder Cup performance of his career. In Woods’ defense he did come up against Europe’s unstoppable force of Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari in all three of his team matches before Jon Rahm defeated him on the final day with a birdie at the 17th. Fellow picks Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau also pick up 0 points from the weekend but both played less matches than Woods over the Albatross course.
Captain: Darren Clarke (2016)
Pick: Lee Westwood
As the most experienced Ryder Cup player on the European side, Westwood was expected to lead by example at Hazeltine but looked out of sorts on the opening day as succumbed to a 5&4 thrashing alongside rookie Thomas Pieters. To Westwood’s credit, he has come out and shouldered the blame for the defeat, the heaviest of the morning, before he was dropped for the afternoon fourballs and Saturday’s foursomes. The Englishman returned in Saturday afternoon alongside Danny Willett and looked to have shaken off that poor performance early on as he rattled off three straight birdies from the fifth. Then came the downfall with a missed short putt on the 17th gifting the US the lead for the first time in the match before failing to hole from 4ft on the last to miss out on half a point. Westwood’s misery continued on the Sunday as he fell to a 1 up defeat to Webb Simpson on the way to US sealing a six point triumph.
Captain: Larry Wadkins (1995)
Pick: Curtis Strange
Strange was a controversial a pick from the moment he was announced with the 40 year old failing to win a PGA Tour title in the six year prior to the event. However, his last victory in 1989 was at the U.S. Open which was also played over the same course as the Ryder Cup – Oak Hill Country Club. The American failed to pick up any points in opening two matches in the first two days’ foursomes but it was the final three holes on Sunday that went down in history for all the wrong reasons. Strange led Nick Faldo by one hole as he stepped up to tee off on the 16th in a pivotal match to determine the contest but then bogeyed the next three holes to fall to a 1 down defeat to leave Europe within a point of the cup. Philip Walton dealt the decisive blow to the US in the next match to complete a memorable comeback and launch a dominant period in European Ryder Cup history.